Archive for March, 2013

George P. Bush running for land commissioner

After months of speculation, George P. Bush has chosen his path to a political career in Texas.

According to a spokesman, the Texas native filed the paperwork required to run for Texas land commissioner.

Bush is the grandson of one former president and the nephew of another. As a Spanish-speaker whose mother is originally from Mexico, he’s seen by many in the Republican party as a means to court the state’s growing Hispanic population.

Land commissioner can be a stepping stone to higher office in Texas. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst served in the post before winning his current job.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bills address veterans’ tuition program concerns

Two bills have been filed to address concerns raised by some Texas universities over the expense of the state’s veteran higher education financial aid program known as Hazlewood.

State Rep. Chris Turner (D-San Antonio) and state Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) filed identical measures which would allow schools to use “B-On-Time” funds that are currently not utilized to offset Hazlewood and Hazlewood Legacy tuition exemptions.

“Hazlewood represents a solemn promise from the state of Texas to our veterans and their families and our legislation is aimed at keeping that promise,” Turner said.  “By allowing our state’s colleges and universities to utilize unused B-On-Time funds that are currently being transferred back to the state to instead offset Hazlewood costs, we will strengthen our veterans benefits and help our colleges and universities.” 

“The first and foremost consideration is that we help the 1 percent who defend our freedoms and have earned their Hazlewood benefits,” Van de Putte said. “It makes sense to give schools the flexibility to utilize monies already appropriated for their campuses before looking at additional state dollars. This bill will help our universities do the right thing for our veterans and their families.”

The two pieces of legislation would allow state institutions to retain unused tuition funds designated for the “B-On-Time” loan program. HB 3265 and SB 1543 would allow leftover funds to stay with the institution at which they were collected, rather than the current practice of sending that money to other schools.

Medicaid IOU bill passes unanimously

The Texas House of Representatives has passed a measure to fund Medicaid through the end of the year. Lawmakers voted unanimously to approve the $6.6 billion emergency spending bill Tuesday. The legislation also covers the $1.7 billion that’s owed to public schools.

The state found itself in this situation after a decision by the state legislature in 2011 to only fund Medicaid for 18 months. It was their way of balancing the budget in the midst of a massive budget shortfall last session.

The legislation passed just two days before funds would have been cut off to medical providers. The measure now heads to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature.


Craft beer legislation moving forward

Lawmakers at the State Capitol are moving forward with laws to ease restrictions on craft brewers. Tuesday, Sen. John Corona said brewers and distributors struck a tentative deal on new rules for selling beer in Texas.

Under current law, craft breweries cannot sell directly to their customers. Instead, they are required to use a distributor or sell to a retail location. Any beer consumed during a tour has to be given away for free.

The distributors, who have long held sway with lawmakers, have been reluctant to support changes to the system. Brewers, on the other hand, argue that the current laws give an unfair advantage to national distributors. Details of the compromise reached between the two sides have not been released, yet.

The Associated Press Contributed to this report

Capital Tonight: Education, religion and politics

More than a thousand ralliers with the Texas affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers gathered outside the Capitol Monday to call for the restoration of $5.4 billion of public education cuts made last year.

But funding wasn’t the only issue on their minds. A new proposal by Sen. Dan Patrick brought the long-running dispute over vouchers into the mix.

With all eyes on Rome for the selection of the next Pope, many Catholics are reflecting on the state of the church today.

Immigration reform, abortion and the Affordable Care Act are all issues on the church’s radar. We spoke to Bishop Joe Vasquez about those topics, as well as the selection process in Rome.

The effort to make Texas competitive for Democratic candidates is off and running. President Obama’s former campaign field director is in Austin to mobilize volunteers for Battleground Texas.

Capital Tonight’s LeAnn Wallace caught up with Jeremy Bird at Monday’s event Austin.

Click the image below to watch Monday’s full episode.


New committee to give CSCOPE a second look

State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill has chosen a committee that will oversee changes to a controversial teaching tool known as CSCOPE.

The committee includes four SBOE members: Republicans Marty Rowley, Pat Hardy and Tom Maynard, as well as Democrat Mavis Knight. Three members of the CSCOPE governing board will also serve on the committee. According to a message on the Texas Education Agency website, the committee’s job is to appoint review panels made up of teachers, parents and “curriculum specialists” to examine lesson plans available through CSCOPE. The panels would also include “business professionals and other stakeholders.”

The move follows months of discussion, a Senate hearing and at least two TV appearances by Senator Dan Patrick drawing attention to CSCOPE. Conservative groups have accused the program of being anti-American, based on lesson plans that teach students about Islam and Socialism. The program’s governing board has responded to the complaints, saying both were part of larger lessons on religion and forms of government.

CSCOPE was formed through an agreement by 19 regional education service centers representing school districts across the state. It was meant to provide teachers with a way to create lesson plans that comply with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards. According to CSCOPE, more than 70 percent of school districts now use the program.

Capital Tonight: Debating Medicaid expansion

Hundreds of activists rallied outside the Texas Capitol Thursday, as part of Planned Parenthood lobbying day.

This year’s efforts had particular urgency, now that the organization has been cut out of the state’s Women’s Health Program. A bill making its way through the House aims to reverse that decision and bring back federal and state funding.


Debating Medicaid

Another question looming the 83rd Legislative Session is this: Should Texas expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act?

Proponents say it would pull down billions in federal dollars to help the uninsured. Critics, including the governor, say it forces Texas to spend too much money on a program that needs serious reform.

We spoke to John Davidson from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Anne Dunkleberg from the Center for Public Policy Priorities about the research behind the debate.

After the filibuster

Sen. Rand Paul’s nearly 13-hour filibuster Wednesday made national headlines. It also resulted in a new bill, proposed by Sen. Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, that would explicitly outlaw a drone killing on U.S. soil of an American citizen who doesn’t represent an imminent threat. 

Our Capital Commentators weighed in on the significance of the filibuster and the proposed bill.

Click the image below to watch Thursday’s full episode.

Rep. Williams slams White House ‘Tourquester’

Some Republican lawmakers are taking issue with the Obama administration’s decision to close the White House doors to visitors. Citing the sequester, the visitors’ office announced yesterday that due to staffing issues tours would be put on hold indefinitely, starting Saturday. The move comes as Congress was unable to compromise on a budget deal and the spring tourism season is about to hit full swing in Washington, D.C.

In an email statement today, U.S. Rep Roger Williams called the closure “deeply troubling and disturbingly ironic.”

Today, U.S. Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25) made the following comments regarding the White House’s decision to cancel all public tours blaming the federal spending cuts, known as the sequester.  Williams said:

“For many Americans a family or school trip to our nation’s Capitol is a once-in-a-lifetime event.  To cancel all public tours, essentially closing the doors of the White House, is wrong.  This is nothing more than a publicity stunt, as it requires minimal federal dollars to allow the public access to the White House.  If the President was serious about cutting spending, he would negotiate in good faith with Congress to find more desirable solutions.

“I want to let those who are planning a trip to Washington, D.C. know that the Capitol will remain open.  My office is happy to continue arranging tours of the Capitol and many other historical landmarks regardless of any reductions in our office budget.”

In addition, Rep. Louie Gohmert, who represents parts of east Texas, is looking to keep the president off the links until the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are back open to the public. The Hill is reporting he filed an amendment stating ”None of the funds made available by a division of this act may be used to transport the President to or from a golf course until public tours of the White House tours resume.”

Cruz, Holder spar over possibility of drone attacks on American soil

Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder exchanged heated words over the hypothetical use of drone strikes in the United States. The grilling came during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington today.

Senate Republicans have been pressuring the White House to provide information used by the Justice Department to justify the use of lethal drone strikes against terror suspects overseas. Today, the focus was on the possibility that the military might use drone technology to target suspects on American soil.

In a letter to Sen. Rand Paul earlier this week, Holder said the military has never carried out a drone strike on U.S. soil and has “no intention of doing so.” Holder stopped short, however, of ruling out the possibility. He pointed out that a president might be prompted to take such action in an extraordinary circumstance like the Pearl Harbor or September 11th attacks.

During testimony today, Sen. Cruz pressed Holder on the issue. He posed a hypothetical question to the Attorney General: “If an individual is sitting quietly at a cafe in the United States, in your legal judgement does the constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil to be killed by a drone?”

You can view Holder’s response and the full exchange in the video below:

Capital Tonight: Calls for Medicaid expansion growing

More than a thousand Texans gathered at the Capitol Tuesday, asking lawmakers to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Although Gov. Rick Perry has said he’s against expanding Medicaid in its current form, Democratic Rep. Lon Burnam has a proposal modeled after Arizona’s plan that could gain bipartisan support.

Impassioned testimony

A proposed bill aimed at reducing the number of wrongful convictions in Texas drew emotional testimony at a House committee hearing Tuesday. The bill would establish a review commission to investigate the role prosecutors and judges play in the process.

Where do Texans stand on gun control?

James Henson with the Texas Politics Project joined Paul Brown to discuss recent polling numbers on gun control. The poll looks at where Texans stand on high-capacity magazines, semi-automatic weapons and gun laws in general.